Shabbat Shalom from Bruce Washburn
Exodus by Any Other Name
When we are in a crisis, we need to fix the situation that brought us to this point to get out of it. But that is a difficult road, especially on the national level. When our national relationship with God is hitting bottom, we may not be able to pull ourselves together and take action for change, leaving us wondering how we will get out of our trouble.
Ezekiel, whose words we are reading this week as the haftarah on Shabbat Parah, is living in Babylon. His community are those who were exiled from Jerusalem shortly before the destruction of the First Temple. While their physical existence is not in danger, they are torn between dreams of a future that will bring back the days of glory in the Land of Israel, and a reality that indicates that nations that have been exiled do not return home. If God sent them away, they reason, their relationship is severed, they have no hope of a future return.
God views the story differently; Ezekiel tells the people. “When they came to the nations, wherever they went, they profaned My holy name—when they said of them, these are the people of the LORD, and they have gone out of His land.” (Ez. 36:20.) The exiled community is a defamation of God’s name. Radak explains that other nations view the continued exile as proof of God’s inability to take them out of there and return them to their land.
Therefore, “I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for My holy name’s sake, which you have profaned among the nations where you went” (36:22.) Ezekiel and God understand that the people do not have the ability to extricate themselves from exile. The only hope is that such an exodus will not depend on the people but rather on the will of God. Nor can the people make the necessary changes to be deserving of salvation. God will single handedly carry out the salvation and change the people to avoid a repeat of the situation.
All this will happen in a manner reminiscent of the Exodus from Egypt. There, too, the people were not in a position to save themselves. In a description similar to God’s oath to take out, salvage, and redeem the people from Egypt and become their God (Ex. 6:6-8), here too God will “take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land… Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God.” (Ez. 36:24-28.)
When the people of Israel are at a point where they are unable to help themselves God may step in and do what is necessary even when we may not have done much to deserve it. Drastic measures may be applied, and the nation will have as hard of a time believing it in Babylon as they did in Egypt, but it will happen. This haftarah takes the first step towards retelling the story of Pesach, whether from Egypt or from other nations.